THE EVERYDAY HORRORS OF HIS WORK HAVE LED THIS PARAMEDIC TO SPEAK OUT ON MENTAL HEALTH
I’m from Melbourne and started my working life as a commercial pilot. I came up to fly on the Gold Coast and got involved with airline safety. Even then I was interested in people’s behaviours, looking at accidents and why planes crash.
I did postgraduate studies in counselling and joined the Queensland Ambulance Service where I’ve worked as an advanced care paramedic for 16 years. It’s surprising how what I learned in the aviation years followed through to ambulance work.
When you look at how the Swiss cheese holes line up for disasters to happen in flying, it’s the same sort of formula for people’s health. We have all these barriers that are supposed to stop all the holes lining up, but then the perfect storm comes along.
With people that can be the alcohol we’re drinking five days a week, the Valium we’re taking, what we’re doing to ourselves in our lives. When I joined the ambulance, I imagined the work would be car accidents and trauma but that’s only about five per cent of it. A lot of my work is just crawling through dysfunction: mental health, alcohol, drugs.
So much of my work is about restoring calm, just trying to settle things down at another life atrocity.
There’s a desperate message that needs to be told about mental health and the more I learned, the more I wanted to advocate on how we approach the issues. We’ve got a real crisis on our hands. When one in two of us are suffering from depression and suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 44, this is mega.
There were 36 million prescriptions for antidepressant medication in Australia last year, the second highest rate in the world. Somehow we treat that as an acceptable norm. As a father of two kids, I say no, that’s not OK. We need to be having the conversation about it, with our kids, partners, family, friends and work colleagues.
But it’s not just about mental health, it’s about physical health as well.
We’ve got to ask: are we micromanaging ourselves sick or micromanaging ourselves well? It’s all connected.
We’re so complacent. We rot on the inside and when we rot on the outside, we rock up to the doctors and they say here’s a pill for that, then there’s a pill for blood pressure, cholesterol, heart medication and the list goes on. People are taking their eyes off their own health. We’ve got ourselves into this spiral and we need to get off.
I started to speak out about it because people need to hear the message. I started talking to schools and voluntary groups and associations, then I got asked to speak to the corporate sector. I’ve travelled around Australia doing that.
When I do my speaking, I bring in some of my horrendous ambulance stories. I went to a home where a 15-year-old girl had hung herself in the shower. She wrote a note to say she’d had a bad couple of days.
Kids are taking their life because they’ve had a bad week. Social media can feed into that. When you’re getting up near 10 people suiciding a day in Australia and another 30 attempting it, you’ve got to ask why aren’t we talking about this?
We’ve got people in war-torn countries trying to keep alive and here we are trying to end our lives.
The answer’s not in a prescription. We’ve got to go back to the grassroots.
I say to people when you go home tonight, what is your connection with your family? We are starving for connection.
You’ve got to invest in your mental health and social connection is a big part of that. Then there’s good nutrition and exercise — the basics.
Mental health issues can sneak up as the pressure builds. You’ve got to be aware and make real changes. We’re working harder in this country and we’re buying more shiny things. We’ve taken our eyes off our values.
No one who’s ended up on an ambulance trolley ever told me they wished they’d spent more time at work or earned more money. It seems we’ve got this thing called life so horribly wrong.
“KIDS ARE TAKING THEIR LIFE BECAUSE THEY’VE HAD A BAD WEEK. SOCIAL MEDIA CAN FEED INTO THAT.”